Friday, March 2, 2012

CBR IV Review #5 - Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

“History, in the end, is only another kind of story, and stories are different from the truth. The truth is messy and chaotic and all over the place. Often it just doesn’t make sense. Stories make things make sense, but the way they do that is to leave out anything that doesn’t fit. And often that is quite a lot.” 

This book is a wonderful read, albeit a depressing one.  Set in a private Catholic boys' school in Dublin in 2003, Skippy Dies follows a number of characters through a span of the several months surrounding the titular death of Skippy.  The first scene of the book is Skippy's death (whose real name is Daniel Juster).  From there, we jump back a bit, build to the opener, and then move beyond it to its aftermath.

There are a number of narrator's here, and much like with George RR Martin's books, none of them are really that reliable.  I'm a big fan of unreliable narrators in situations like this, as it heightens the realism.  These felt like very real characters, people that Murray knew well and understood.  Having never attended Catholic school, let alone one for boys, I'm certainly no expert on what that reality is like.  However, it felt real and natural to me.  I'm sure all the adolescent actions of the main characters may grate on some, but so far as I'm aware, that's pretty much how teen boys behave.  The relationships between the group of Skippy's friends, in particular, resonated with me, particularly in the way the dynamic shifts after his death.  

There is one literary device used in this book that I absolutely loathe, and that is run on sentences to simulate free form thought of a character (or in this case, several - Lori, Skippy and Carl are all prone to this).  I HATE run on sentences, and some of these can be as long as a paragraph.  However, unlike in books like Foxfire, which I threw across the room since its entirety was written in that style, Skippy Dies uses it sparingly.  It's like an unpleasant seasoning on a good dish - I'll push through the few bites that are unappealing because the rest is good enough to merit it.

I really only have two large complaints with the book.  One is the use of our sole adult perspective, Howard "The Coward" Fallon.  Much of his story felt superfluous.  I never cared about his relationship with Halley or his crush on Aurelie and I don't feel that any of the time spent on that was worthwhile.  The rest of Howard's story was relevant to both understand him as a character, and understanding a number of important plot points (even if I think it's absolute bullshit that decades later people are calling him "coward" for not doing something incredibly idiotic and blaming him for the fact that someone else got hurt for doing it instead - blame the person who did it and the person who created the situation, not Howard...but I digress).  They could have cut his romantic subplots and it still would have worked (although the Hallowe'en Hop would need a new distraction).

Second objection was the overuse of scientific terminology.  There is a subplot regarding Ruprecht's scientific theories (Ruprecht being Skippy's roommate) and while it is relevant to the story, they delve WAY too far into the language of the theories involved for my taste.  This is not a sci-fi novel and I didn't require intimate knowledge of string theory to get what they were attempting to accomplish.  It was in these sections when I was most likely to put the book down or let my mind wander.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this.  There is some heavy, HEAVY stuff going on, and if you are sensitive to the darker stuff in here, it might be one to skip.  I can't divulge what kind of things are involved without giving too much away, but you'll realize it long before the story confirms them, so if you are bothered by what you think is happening, just stop reading.  If you can handle it, though, this is a really dynamic read, and very different from the majority of contemporary literature in both themes and style.

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